Recognizing the need to sustain the integrity and resilience of social-ecological systems has led to calls for 'ecosystem-based management', a management approach that considers all ecosystem components, including humans and the physical environment. With the overall goal of sustaining ecosystem structure and function, this management approach:
• focuses on key ecosystem processes and their responses to perturbations;
• integrates ecological, social, and economic goals and recognizes humans as key components of the ecosystem;
• defines management based on ecological boundaries rather than political ones;
• addresses the complexity of natural processes and social systems by identifying and confronting uncertainty;
• uses adaptive management where policies are used as experiments and are modified as information is gained;
• engages multiple stakeholders in a collaborative process to identify problems, understand the mechanisms driving them, and create and test solutions; and
• considers the interactions among ecosystems (terrestrial, freshwater, and marine).
Ecosystem-based management is driven by explicit goals, executed by policies and protocols, and made adaptable by using policies as experiments, monitoring their outcomes and altering them as knowledge is gained.
Traditionally, management practices have focused on maximizing short-term yield and economic gain over long-term sustainability. These practices were driven by inadequate information on ecosystem dynamics, ignorance of the space and timescales on which ecosystem processes operate, and a prevailing public perception that immediate economic and social value outweighed the risk of alternative management. Seeking to overcome these obstacles, ecosystem-based management relies on research at all levels of ecological organization, explicitly recognizes the dynamic character of ecosystems, acknowledge that ecological processes operate over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales and are context dependent, and presupposes that our current knowledge of ecosystem function is provisional and subject to change. Ultimately, ecosystem-based management recognizes the importance of human needs while addressing the reality that the capacity of our world to meet those needs in perpetuity has limits and depends on the functioning of resilient ecosystems.
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